Aria Music Server
Input: Ethernet, USB (for USB storage),
Output: AES/EBU, USB, Coax S/PDIF (RCA and BNC), i2S
Dimensions (W x D x H): 43 x 36 x 6.5cm
Weight: 12 Kgs
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $6995 as reviewed with Linear Power Supply and 2TB Storage
The Aria Music Server from Digibit is a purpose-built computer running Windows Home Server 11 stored on a 30GB SSD card (next year, the Aria will switch over to Linux) and its sole purpose is to rip, store, access and play music. Under the hood, we have Intel Atom N2600 (1M Cache, 1.6 GHz) dual core processor and 30GB of Kingston RAM. The standard version, under review, comes with 2TB of HDD storage in a RAID 0 array, a commercial grade Teac DVD/R ripper, and linear power supply. You can also opt for 4TB of storage or 2TB of SSD storage. There's also an optional internal DAC (Burr Brown 1795). The 6mm thick precision machined aluminum chassis was designed by Ochoa & Diaz-Llanos, a Spanish industrial design studio, and the Aria certainly looks the part of high end music server.
While we're on about its looks, one oddity to my eyes is the DAC-less version, which is here for review, has a place for a display but the DAC-less version doesn't have one so instead it acts as a window onto the Aria's insides. Not a huge deal but for nearly $7000 I'd expect a more elegant solution. (If purchased with its own internal DAC, this window displays file format type and sampling rate for each selection during playback). Other than that, the fanless Aria is all business with those aluminum side panels acting as heatsinks. The front panel also houses an on/off switch and the DVD/R drive used for ripping.
Around back reside the ins and outs and the DAC-less review sample includes five digital outputs (USB, AES/EBU, Coax S/PDIF (RCA and BNC), and I2S). Inputs include Ethernet and USB for USB storage. The Aria can handle resolutions up to 24/192, DXD, and double rate DSD via USB. Supported file formats include WAV, AIFF, FLAC, and ALAC and the Aria also supports gapless playback. (If ordered with its internal DAC, the Aria supports PCM/DXD files up to 32 bit/384kHz, DSD64 and DSD128). Ripping is handled by a custom version of dbPoweramp and the Aria accesses up to five online metadata sources including Rovi, GD3 and SonataDB (for classical) as well as Freedb and Musicbrainz. Licenses are preinstalled for access to databases mentioned without added cost. The Aria is also UPnP and DLNA compliant.
The Aria “iaria” software supports up to 18 metadata fields and the SonataDB is designed for the classical music lover. The Aria player software is available for iOS devices and is a highly customized version of JRiver Media Center.
Music servers live and die by their apps, the interface to our music. I find the iaria iPad app to be one of the better apps around. It is easy to use and very responsive. I set up the Aria to read from both an external USB drive and NAS for a total library of about 1200 albums plus the music stored on its internal HDD and the app had no problems displaying most of the associated album art from my libraries. You can also elect to have the app copy the contents of external storage to the Aira's internal storage.
The iaria software is playlist-based and certainly JRiver users will be more than familiar with its workings. There are a number of views available onto your music including Artist, Album, Genre, Period, Instrument, Style, Composer, Sample Rate, Conductor, and Orchestra. If you use the Aria app to rip your music (the default format is FLAC), these fields will be populated for classical music from the SonataDB. I tried ripping a few classical CDs and found that there was problem with the first review unit, more than likely an issue due to shipping damage. Digitbit quickly sent over a replacement unit and everything worked as it should. Insert a CD and the Aria goes about ripping and finished off a CD in just a few minutes. All of the associated metadata, including album cover art, showed up. For classical selections, that included the extended metadata fields from the SonataDB including soloists, instrument, period, and more. Nice.
One of the discs I ripped, Yo-Yo Ma performing the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites, is a two-disc set. The first disc was put into a folder titled Johann Sebastian Bach while the second disc was stored in a folder titled Yo-Yo Ma. While not a huge deal, I was able to go in and change that metadata to correctly reflect this as a two-disc set.
To play music, just select a view and then tap and hold your finger over the selection you'd like to play. You are then presented with a window with the option to Play now, Play next, Add to playlist, Shuffle and play, Play Doctor (automatically loads and plays music similar to what you've selected), Clear playlist, and Delete files from server.
When playing music, you can view and edit its associated metadata and access Artist bio information provided by Last.fm. You can also edit and save Playlists, view recently played music and even recently added music. I pretty much stuck to my usual routine of viewing my library in Album mode and listening to and playing back complete albums. There's also a search feature that worked nicely and altogether I'd say the iaria app worked flawlessly.
The iaria software is also able to support multiple Zones. You can link Zones so they play the same music or have different Zones play different music. If you'd like to get a more complete picture of what the Aria server and software can do, I recommend checking out the 40+ page manual. I listened to the Aria connected to the Auralic Vega via a length of Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable. The Vega was connected to my Pass INT-30A which drove the DeVore Fidelity The Nines. The associated Windows drivers for the Vega DAC were installed remotely by Aria support, a service available to all customers.
Playing With Aria
Purity and bass. Those were the first two words that came to mind when listening through the Aria server. Purity and bass. Listening to Miles Davis' A Tribute To Jack Johnson (24/96 HDtracks) made thoughts of anything else simply vanish. The Aria delivers a very clean and clear sounding musical message, one that appears to be devoid of some of the noise that comes along for the ride when listening to my MacBook Pro. Micro detail, resolution, and lifelike dynamic snap are portrayed in a convincing manner making for a musically engaging presentation.
There's also a timbral richness and, for lack of another word, purity, that makes for an emotionally engaging presentation. Bass is also fit and full and certainly fitter and fuller than through my MacBook Pro. This, coupled with an apparently lower noise floor deliver the beat and flow of music much better than the Mac. Something like FKA Twigs LP1 is positively get up out of your listening chair and dance like a fool moving. Music moves and when its presented with such clarity and color it makes listening that much more involving.
While I do not have any other servers here for direct comparison, I'd say that the Aria most closely resembles the excellent and similarly-priced Aurender S10 (see review). If you read that review you'll see a lot the same language used and a lot of the same improvements over the MacBook Pro expressed. The Aurender app is also very user friendly so deciding between these two fine products comes down to a question of subtle differences in sound quality, too subtle to remark upon definitively without a direct comparison, and perhaps which product you like the looks of better.
I took some DSD albums for a spin on the Aria and they played without a hitch delivering all of those things that DSD does including a natural sense of dynamic swings and a dimensional quality that PCM rarely matches. Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' sounded big and fresh and freewheelin' without any hint of digital edge. Even Dylan's harmonica sounded smooth and easy unlike other digital versions I've heard which can make a harmonica sound like a weapon.
Using the Aria app was also a pleasant experience over time. I quickly became accustomed to the interface and found it a breeze to use. Again, I'm mostly an album listener so I do not take these apps for the kind of workout that the playlist happy user might but even here I'd have to say that a few taps and you're rolling in playlist heaven. The ripper, with its access to the SonataDB classical metadata library with its extended metadata should have special appeal to the classical listener. Users can also enter their own metadata but having these fields pre-populated with Composer, Conductor, Solosist and more is a real treat.
I also happen to have some Sonos gear here for review so I set up the Play:5 standalone speaker and the Aria app listed it as a Zone, along with my Auralic Vega, which meant I could play to the Sonos or the Vega or both, right from within the Aria app. Nice. The app also allows you to control volume and I felt that through my main system the Pass' volume control provided better results, especially at lower levels.
A Musical Server
The Aria server delivered on what I'd expect of a high end music server and then some. Sonically, I found little if anything to fault, the Aria clearly bettering my MacBook Pro in important areas. The Aria app is a pleasure to use and classical music lovers should fall in love with its ability to deliver extended meta data making classifying and finding your music a breeze.